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WSU Researchers Find Strategy To Help Alcohol-Addicted Native People

Courtesy of Dr. Michael McDonell

Washington State University College of Medicine Associate Research Professor Kate Hirchak and her colleagues are asking this question: Which incentives motivate American Indian and Alaska Native people with severe alcohol addictions to stop drinking, at least for a few days?

To find out, her research team has been coordinating with representatives who counsel people with addictions in three Native communities. They’re in the Northwest, Alaska and the Northern Plains. Twice a week, study volunteers visit their counselors and bring urine samples.
“They’d be able to draw for prizes during the visit if their urine sample was negative," she said.
Sometimes they draw a chip that entitles them to a practical prize like a Walmart gift card or a culturally appropriate gift like beads. Sometimes they draw something with no monetary value.

“Forty percent of the prize chips that individuals drew have phrases that are culturally meaningful that are positive, that say ‘good job,'" she said.

Hirchak says the most popular incentives are things people can redeem in their communities, things like Walmart gift cards. Younger participants were drawn to technology-related prizes.

She says the average cost for the incentives was about $50. Those findings reinforce a recent similar WSU study. Hirchak says it shows there’s a cost-effective, culturally appropriate option that’s tailored for people in Native communities.

“We hear a lot of negativity around substance misuse in tribal communities, when actually, many Native communities have some of the highest abstinence rates. It’s just so great that we can move the research forward, using Native communities as leaders in health and recovery," she said.

Word about the study has gotten around. Hirchak says the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Michael McDonell, is fielding calls from around the nation. They’re asking if they might be able to adapt the concept to their communities and perhaps to people struggling with other problems.